Covid-19 Vaccination Related Misinformation in The Sri Lankan Social Media Landscape: Common Misconceptions, Sources, Channels and Common Practices in Navigating Misinformation Among Permanent Residents Aged 18-60 Years in the Colombo District

The Health Promotion Bureau (HPB) Website


Social media seemed to have had a major role to play in the information landscape as a conduit for circulation of ideas and opinions among friends on which people seemed base their decisions on.

For an example, among those who had negative sentiments on vaccination due to perceptions of low efficacy, 76.7% had based their beliefs on the opinion of their friends. However, 95% among them had got to know their friends’ opinion through social media.

Similarly, 77.8% of those who were initially doubtful of the efficacy of vaccination and later overcame it had done so based on their observations on social media.

The effect of this virtual community may have a major impact on the formation of attitudes and any research which does not explicitly take it into consideration may end-up underestimating the influence of social media in health information landscape.

While almost all (98.2%) of those who regularly used social media used it to consume information on current affairs only half (51.2%) were keen on using it as a platform to disseminate information. The importance of this is the fact that much of the content circulated in social circuits are mostly disseminated through a group of people with a higher affinity towards sharing. If these nodes with a higher affinity for “content recirculation” could be identified through their social media behavior, targeting them with scientific content could have a proportionally bigger impact on the information landscape.

In addition to this, factors like the level of trust in traditionally authoritative figures when it comes to health communication such as Doctors, Governmental Organizations, and International Non-Governmental Organizations seemed to be useful in predicting antivaccine sentiments. A deep neural network trained with these datapoints in the limited sample, proved to be reasonably accurate (85%-90%) although a larger sample would be needed for better results.

With over 70% (71.7%) believing Government Health Institutions to be credible sources of health information, they play a major role in shaping public sentiments and beliefs. Therefore, empowering such institutions to reach the masses through social media may have an enormous impact on the health information sphere of a community. The use of elements of virality such as social currency to optimize viral reach, seemed have paid rich dividends to the Health Promotion Bureau (HPB) of Sri Lanka. Modeling the published content to fit the ongoing public conversation at the given time had resulted in the Facebook page of the HPB managing to reach nearly 8 million (7.95 million) Facebook users during the 3rd quarter of 2021 which saw Sri Lanka's biggest Covid-19 outbreak to date.

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